Apple’s First MR Headset to Offer AR/VR Switching

Concept image by Antonio De Rosa

Having delayed a more powerful augmented reality (AR) headset, Apple will now ship a $3000 mixed-reality (MR) headset this year called Reality Pro. And a new report in Bloomberg details how it could work.

The Apple Reality Pro headset will have an iOS-like user interface—presumably a grid of app icons—but in 3D, and it will switch between AR and virtual reality (VR), which seems confusing. It will target both work and entertainment scenarios and will differentiate itself from the competition with eye- and hand-tracking technologies. That will have to be impressive, given that the Apple headset is over twice as expensive as its closest competitor.

“Here’s how it will work,” the report explains. “The headset will have several external cameras that can analyze a user’s hands, as well as sensors within the gadget’s housing to read eyes. That allows the wearer to control the device by looking at an on-screen item—whether it’s a button, app icon or list entry—to select it. Users will then pinch their thumb and index finger together to activate the task, without the need to hold anything. The approach differs from other headsets, which typically rely on a hand controller.” (That does, however, sound a lot like the first-generation Microsoft HoloLens AR headset.)

Apple’s headset will be a standalone device, meaning that it won’t require an iPhone. But it will work as an external display for a Mac, if desired, and will include two “ultra-high-resolution” Sony displays to handle VR and an “AR pass-through mode.” To switch between AR and VR, users will access a digital crown similar to that on Apple Watch.

The Reality Pro will allegedly render realistic human avatars in contrast to the cartoons used by Meta and other MR/VR vendors, but only for one-on-one chats where both users have the Apple device.

Bloomberg notes that Apple’s Technology Development Group, which has over 1,000 employees, has spent over 7 years on this project. And that the firm is betting big on it as the next major new platform after the Apple Watch. Production starts in February and Apple is already plotting a cheaper $1500 version for release in 2024 or 2025.

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